The Question that Got My Attention

On a recent consulting visit to a PreK – 12 school, I interviewed a group of high schoolers to help inform my recommendations for the school’s marketing communications and enrollment management efforts.

Whenever I meet with student groups, I always share with them that I, too, was a product of an independent school (a “lifer” in fact) and that my own kids are enrolled in independent schools as well.

I’ve yet to meet a group of students I haven’t loved, and this particular group had a great rapport with each other. The students spoke a lot about their respect for their teachers and their friendships with each other. And all of them appreciated the sacrifices their parents had made for them to be able to attend a private school.

As we were wrapping up our time together, one of the young women (a senior I believe), looked me square in the eye and asked:

“How would you be different if you hadn’t gone to your private school?”

Her question got my attention for two reasons:

#1 – Students rarely ask me questions, and 

#2 – It’s exactly the sort of question we should be asking all of our alumni.

It’s not uncommon for us to pepper alumni with questions like: “What did you love most about our school?” or “How did our school positively impact your life?” or “Tell us about a teacher who made a difference?”

All good questions. All make for some decent testimonial videos.

But this student’s question was different.

It made me pause.

How would I be different if I hadn’t attended my independent school?

Would I have gotten into the same college? Would I have been able to graduate in 4 years? Would I have chosen the same career path? And would I have sought out a private-independent school education for my own kids?

A very awkward picture of me and my 1993 high school classmates. I’m front and center with the pegged jeans and bangs that look like a broom.

It’s difficult to answer any of those “what ifs” because I did have the benefit of 14 years surrounded by teachers who pushed me and supported me, and friends who did the same.

But the first thing that came to mind, and my answer to her, was that if I hadn’t attended the private school I did, I would not have been as comfortable approaching my professors in college or advocating for myself. Being in my indy school environment gave me the confidence to do that. In my mind, that’s worth every dollar my family invested in my education. And it’s likely a big reason I chose to enroll my own kids in independent schools.

So here are two questions for you.

Have you asked your school’s graduating seniors or alumni: “How would you be different if you hadn’t attended our school?”


How would you be different if you had attended a different school?

Please leave your comments below. I can’t wait to hear from you.

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